Health Library

Can Your Pet Make You Sick?

Testicular self-exam, as described in the text
Faithful felines and devoted dogs provide innumerable benefits to their owners, but sometimes they can spread infections to humans. There are several steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of contracting an infection from your pet.

With millions pets in United States homes, transmission of an infectious disease from pet to owner can occur. However, common sense and proper veterinary care can keep these occurrences relatively low.

Most animal diseases are treatable, even avoidable. If your pet gets sick it is important to get prompt treatment.

Many infectious diseases tend to be specific to certain species. However, bacteria or parasites that live harmlessly or cause limited disease in one species may cause more serious illness in another.

What Can Pets Pass Along?

Animal bites and scratches can present serious problems for people. If a wound is not cleaned and dressed properly or if medical care is not provided, the person is more likely to get an infection. Infections that may be passed from pets to people include:

Cat Scratch Fever

Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria carried by healthy cats.. Cat scratch fever results after a cat scratches the skin, bites, or licks an open sore. About a week later, the point of contact develops a raised bump. Other symptoms may occur, like fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, or headache. Serious complications, like a high fever or pneumonia, may result.

Toxoplasmosis

Another infection that can result from contact with cats, toxoplasmosis, poses the most danger to unborn children of women who do not have immunity or antibodies to the agent. Cats harboring the parasite may not show any symptoms but will shed spores in their feces. The spores become infectious within a day or two.

Effects of toxoplasmosis on the fetus depends on gestational age. Pregnancy complications include miscarriage or stillbirth. The newborn infant is also at risk of having severe mental disabilites, cataracts, and hearing loss.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis can trigger diarrhea, fever, headache, and abdominal pain. Bacterial infections of the intestine from bacteria occur most often after people ingest contaminated food or beverages, however, this infection can also be passed from pets to humans.

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is spread through ingestion of water or food that has been contaminated by feces containing the a specific organism. Giardia is one of the most common intestinal parasites of both pets and humans in the US. Giardiasis causes gastrointesinal symptoms including, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and abdominal pain.

Ringworm

Ringworm is an itchy, fungal skin infection that can occur after contact with an infected pet.

Roundworms and Hookworms

These intestinal parasites can make the move to people through contact with contaminated dirt.Roundworms are not infectious right away. They need to develop in the soil for a couple of weeks. While hookworms enter the feet and cause intense itching, ingested roundworm eggs can make their way to organs and lead to serious complications. Symptoms include abdominal pain, gas, nausea, headache, and fatigue.

In pregnant women, hookworms are associated with premature birth and low birth weight.

Rabies

A bite from an infected animal can cause rabies. You can eliminate this risk by having your pets vaccinated against rabies.

Precautions

Take these steps to decrease the risk of getting an infection from your pet:

  • Provide pets with routine veterinary care, testing, and vaccination.
  • Discuss pet-related health risks with your veterinarian. Most vets are very knowledgeable about this topic.
  • Take your pet to the vet whenever it is ill, even for bouts of diarrhea or skin rashes.
  • Teach pets not to scratch you or others, even in play.
  • Instruct children how to play with pets to decrease the chance of being bitten.
  • Wash skin scratches or bites with soap and water. Seek medical attention if the pet punctures the skin.
  • Keep animals' nails clipped.
  • Train animals not to drink out of the toilet.
  • Feed animals pet food or cooked meat.
  • Do not let pets eat feces or hunt for prey.
  • Avoid letting animals lick your mouth or open sores.
  • Pick up feces as soon as pets defecate. Do not use the stool as fertilizer.
  • Do not let children play in public areas where animals may have defecated.
  • Empty the litter box daily and wear gloves.
  • Wash your hands after picking up droppings or cleaning the litter box.

Taking good care of your pets is the key to having a disease-free home.

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

Humane Society International
http://www.hsus.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References

Cat scratch disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 25, 2012. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Giardiasis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Hookworm. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated April 25, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Kaplan JE, Benson C, et al. Guidelines for prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections in HIV-infected adults and adolescents: recommendations from CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2009;58(RR-4):1-207.

Preventing infections from pets: a guide for people with HIV infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/brochures/pets.htm. Updated June 21, 2007. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Tan JS. Human zoonotic infections transmitted by dogs and cats. Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:1933-1943.

Toxoplasmosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2013.



Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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